STEVEN FLETCHER could still feature in the final throws of Sunderland’s relegation battle, although the likelihood is that the striker has kicked his last ball this season.
Fletcher has missed Sunderland’s last four games after injuring ankle ligaments in March’s goalless draw against Crystal Palace.
The Scotland international continues to undergo treatment at the Academy of Light, but there is no chance of him returning to the fold for this weekend’s visit of Everton and it remains in the balance whether he will be involved at all during the final month of the campaign.
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet is not giving up hope of Fletcher playing some part in the remaining seven games - particularly as the Black Cats face three encounters in the final week of the campaign.
But Poyet admits the outlook on Fletcher looks bleak over whether he returns to action before the season comes to a close.
“It’s not good and it’s going to be difficult (for Fletcher to return),” Poyet said
“But we’re trying our best to use him, whether it’s possible for one game, two games or three games.
“Imagine if we had him for the final week of the season, that would be three games.
“I’m not going to give up on him, but maybe that’s me.
“At the moment though, it’s difficult to say.”
Should Fletcher remain on the treatment table, it will cap a miserable season for the 26-year-old.
Fletcher missed the start of the campaign while recovering from an ankle injury and has faced spells on the sidelines with shoulder, Achilles and another ankle problem.
The £12million frontman has never been able to find a run of consistent form and a return of just three goals has prompted criticism of his performances on the terraces.
And should Sunderland suffer relegation to the Championship - as seems increasingly likely - then Fletcher could be one of the players the club looks to offload in the summer to cut costs.
Despite the former Wolves striker’s troubles with form and fitness, there was interest in him both last summer and during the January transfer window.